Brackets on the mind of many

Has there ever been a spring as widely anticipated by this area as this one?
Coastal Point

Businesses hit by a sluggish economy are excited about seeing vacationers and second-home owners get back in the area, and residents trapped in their homes by avalanches of snow this winter are looking forward to getting back outside and taking in some fresh air. It is indeed a coming season of anticipation and hope, filled with an audible sigh of relief as the big, bad winter of 2009-10 will soon be in our collective rearview mirror.

For many of us, particularly those of us with an eye on the sports scene, spring truly starts with the NCAA basketball tournament. Oh, spring training for baseball should really signify the dawn of a new season, but the teams perform in Arizona and Florida, and aren’t accessible to many of us not named Andy Lyons (I am so going with you next time).

I got a taste of March Madness a little early this year, as I made my way to Greensboro, N.C. last weekend for the ACC Tournament. Though the conference is a little down this year, the excitement of the crowd and the competitiveness of the games made for great action. And the adult beverages at the local eateries hit the spot pretty well, too. I mean, never in a million years did I ever see myself bonding with Virginia fans at a tournament involving Maryland, but a few gallons of Jameson will sure make a guy...

But I digress.

The ACC Tournament gave me a thirst for the Big Dance. I listened to the tournament selection shows on the radio during my ride home from North Carolina and started digesting as much information as possible for when I would get back to the couch and be able to lose myself in the brackets. This would be the year, I was convincing myself, that I would master the tournament brackets.

But it doesn’t really work that way, does it?

I have lost tournament pools over the years to people who just pick the games solely based on who is seeded higher. I have lost pools to others who make their selections by taking the team with the coolest name. I have lost to some people (I’m looking at you, Sam Harvey) who copy the selections of the “experts” on ESPN.

Have you noticed a trend here?

I have a long and storied tradition of losing these things. There was the year I went with my heart over my head and picked Temple to go to the Final Four. I was certain that my old school had the defense, coaching and clutch shooting to make a real run at glory.

Yeah, Temple got knocked out in the second round.

Oh, and there was the year I went out on a limb and selected Syracuse to win the national championship. They lost their first game.

Having been crushed so many times picking my beloved Maryland Terrapins to go far in March, I picked them to lose in the third round a few years back. They rewarded my skepticism by winning the national championship. Admittedly, I wasn’t too upset about losing the pool that year.

But I’ve come to the conclusion that the best way to perform well with your brackets is to practice damage control. It’s fine to put yourself out there and pick a few upsets, just make sure you do so against teams you don’t think will go very far anyway. For instance, if you think a good team will lose in the second or third round, it doesn’t hurt to pick against them in the first or second round.

Of course, keep this in mind: I have never won a tournament pool that had over four people in it. My advice is not the source you want to tap. It’s like getting investment tips from Bernie Madoff or suggestions from Shaun Lambert on how to get up early and start the day with a real zest for life.

But I’ll throw this out there for the world to see (or, more precisely, for my four readers. You have to love family). My Final Four this year is Kansas, Kansas St., West Virginia and Baylor, with Kansas topping West Virginia for the title.

I’m guessing one of those four teams will fall this weekend.